Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Massive fire strikes National Museum of Brazil

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

The National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro was struck by a massive fire today and it shows no signs of abating. Founded in 1818, the museum moved into the former residence of the Portuguese royal family in 1889. Every floor of the historic building is completely engulfed in flames. Firefighters are still struggling to get it under control now before it reaches a storage area that contains chemicals. There are no reports of any injuries (or worse) so far. The fire broke out around 7:30 PM after the museum had closed for the day, so all the visitors were gone and hopefully the employees were as well.

The museum is one of the oldest and largest in the Americas and has a vast collection of more than 20 million artifacts, including the oldest human remains ever discovered in Brazil, the 12,000-year-old skeleton of an adult woman known as Luzia. It also houses an internationally important library with more than 470,000 works, 2,400 of them extremely rare.

Brazil’s President Michel Temer released a heartbreaking statement: “It is incalculable for Brazil to lose the collection of the National Museum. Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge were lost. It is a sad day for all Brazilians.”

And for the world. :cry:


Gold horse head shines on public display

Sunday, August 19th, 2018

The gilded bronze horse head from a 1st century equestrian statue found in Waldgirmes, central Germany, is going on public display for the first time since it was unearthed in 2009. It’s been through a lot in its 2000 years, first getting dismembered by Germanic tribesmen making a point about the transitory nature of imperial power in the wake of their annihilation of Rome’s legions at the Battle of Teutoborg Forest, then getting thrown in a deep well, then getting dug up by archaeologists, then spending years undergoing painstaking conservation while the owner of the land where it was found took the state of Hesse to court to geometrically expand his compensation.

When I posted last month about the outcome of the trial (the court sided with the landowner), there were no recent photos of the horse’s head so I had to grudgingly make do with one taken in 2010 in the early stages of conservation. Very grudgingly. Most extremely grudgingly. All that gnashing of teeth can now be forgotten because Hesse has finally put the horse head on public display. The new exhibition opens Sunday and was previewed for the press on Friday. That means those of us not afforded the opportunity to see the gloriously golden equine in person benefit from the release of new photographs of it on display.

The Saalburg Roman Fort museum is the lucky recipient of the refreshed head. Built in the early 2nd century A.D. under the reign of the Emperor Trajan, the fort overlooking the Limes (the frontier of the Roman Empire) did sentry duty for 150 years before the frontier got too hot and the troops were withdrawn. The ruins of the Saalburg were rediscovered and excavated in the mid-19th century. Between 1897 and 1907, the fort was reconstructed by order of Kaiser Wilhelm II. It became an open-air museum and research facility surrounded by the remains of the Roman settlement which was also partially reconstructed. Today it is the only museum in Hesse that is entirely dedicated to the area’s Roman history.

Saalburg’s permanent exhibition has been updated and redesigned over the past few years, and the Waldgirmes head will be its centerpiece. The museum has created a wall-height poster depicting the original size of the full statue. The head alone is two feet long and weighs 33 pounds, so the statue was an impressive sight when it was intact. Another large panel explains how the horse head was excavated from a wooden barrel at the bottom of well shaft 36 feet deep.

That was just the beginning of the hard work. While the waterlogged anaerobic environment preserved the gilded bronze head, it did have some thorny condition issues mostly posed by the nature of gilding itself. The corrosion of the bronze manifested on the gold surface which, as on any gilded object, is extremely thin. Conservators struggled to remove those corrosion products without also removing precious gold. Patches of acrylic resin were applied to strengthen a few areas and then the entire piece was given a coating of resin for its protection. The conservation team made a conscious choice not to re-gild areas of loss.

Hesse’s Science and Arts Minister Boris Rhein showered the conservators with praise at the press preview of the exhibition, noting that their precision work allows us to see the exquisitely life-like details captured by the sculptor. The anatomy of the horse — muscles, veins, nostrils, teeth, eyes — is crafted with a verisimilitude only a highly skilled craftsman and artist could achieve.


British Museum uncovers origin of looted objects, returns them to Iraq

Sunday, August 12th, 2018

Researchers at the British Museum solved a mystery both ancient and modern when they discovered the origin site of eight artifacts looted from Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Thanks to their efforts, the objects are now on their way back to Iraq.

The orphaned artifacts were in custody of the British Museum after having been seized in a police raid on a London antiquities dealer in May 2003. The dealer had no proof of ownership — I guess he hadn’t gotten around to forging a “Swiss private collection” document yet — or any other documentation about the artifacts, so they were confiscated by the authorities and were in storage for almost 15 years.

The cold case was heated up when the Metropolitan Police reformed its art and antiquities squad. The squad gave the objects to the British Museum this year in the hope that its experts might be able to figure out where the pieces came from so they could be repatriated. As it turned out, the British Museum was uniquely well-positioned to uncover the truth about these objects.

The eight artifacts consist of three fired clay cones with Sumerian cuneiform inscriptions, a fragment of a white gypsum mace-head inscribed in Sumerian, a polished river pebble with a cuneiform inscription in Sumerian, one red marble and one white marble stamp-seal amulet from the Jemdet Nasr period (ca. 3000 B.C.) in the form of a reclining sheep and one banded white chalcedony seal of a reclining sphinx from the Achaemenid period.

It was the three cones that gave the British Museum the information they needed to pinpoint the origin site. The all bore the identical Sumerian inscription, one that is also know from other inscribed ancient artifacts. It reads: “For Ningirsu, Enlil’s mighty warrior, Gudea, ruler of Lagash, made things function as they should (and) he built and restored for him his Eninnu, the White Thunderbird.” This inscription identified the cones as coming from the archaeological city of Girsu (modern-day Tello) in southern Iraq where the Eninnu temple once stood. The temple was sacred Eninnu’s patron god Ningirsu.

The great temple complex is in the Tell A area of Tello where ongoing excavations have found artifacts and remains elucidating the plan, size and design of the temple. Archaeologists from the British Museum have been excavating Tell A since 2016 as part of the Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme, a program set up in response to the IS destruction of cultural patrimony that trains staff from the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in the latest techniques of rescue archaeology. The initial survey of Tello in 2015 and 2016 found dozens of looter pits. They were shallow and appear to have been targeted, small-scale efforts probably done at night by a few individuals rather than the massive looting operations that ran roughshod over Iraq’s ancient sites in 2003.

The British Museum team at Tello found broken cones identical to those seized in London. Their shape was an imitation of tent pegs and they were originally placed in holes in the temple wall, offerings to the Sumerian Thunderbird, the lion-headed god who roared thunder and flashed lightning bolts from his body. That’s how the researchers were able to discover not just the site where the objects had been looted from, but the actual wall they had been inserted in originally.

On Friday, August 10th, the artifacts were officially returned to the Iraqi ambassador Salih Husain Ali in a ceremony at the British Museum.

Iraqi ambassador Salih Husain Ali … said the protection of antiquities was an international responsibility and praised the British Museum and its staff “for their exceptional efforts in the process of identifying and returning looted antiquities to Iraq. Such collaboration between Iraq and the United Kingdom is vital for the preservation of Iraqi heritage.”

St John Simpson, the assistant keeper at the Middle East department of the museum, said: “Uniquely we could trace them not just to the site but to within inches of where they were stolen from. This is a very happy outcome, nothing like this has happened for a very, very long time if ever.”

They will be returned to the national museum in Baghdad and reunited with many objects from the recent excavations, and may eventually be loaned to a museum near the site.


Third Lod mosaic found during construction of Lod mosaic museum

Monday, August 6th, 2018

The construction of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center, a permanent home for one the largest and most intact (not to mention one of the most beautiful) Roman mosaic floors ever discovered, has resulted in the discovery of yet another exceptional mosaic floor. Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists unearthed the colorful depiction of fish, birds and plants in just one month of work.

This is the third one found at the site where the first mosaic floor was found in 1996. The second was discovered in late 2014. This embarrassment of archaeological and artistic riches was once part of a large luxury home dating to the early 4th century A.D. in the ancient city of Lydda which under the Roman Empire was a district capital and important center of trade. The first and largest mosaic covered the floor of the main reception room/triclinium. The second adorned an internal courtyard. The newly-discovered mosaic covered the floor of another smaller reception room/triclinium next to the one where the largest and first mosaic was found.

“The archaeological excavation that we carried out this month was relatively small, but contributed significantly to our understanding of the villa building,” said [excavation director Dr. Amir] Gorzalczany. “Thankfully, the main central panel of the mosaic was preserved. The figures, many similar to the figures in the earlier mosaics, comprise fish and winged creatures. A fairly similar mosaic was found in the past in Jerusalem, on the Mount Zion slopes. The Lod mosaics, however, do not depict any human figures that are present in the Mount Zion mosaic. It is quite probable that the same artist produced both mosaics, or that two artists worked from a similar design.”

“This type of mosaic is better known in the Western part of the Roman Empire,” Gorzalczany explained. “Also noteworthy are the rectangular marks that may denote the placing of the couches on which the participants of the banquet or feast reclined. These marks are common in similar villas and are an indication of the use of the space in the reception halls.”

One corner of the mosaic was first spotted by archaeologists in 2014 at the time the second mosaic was discovered. Except for that one corner, the rest of the space was underneath a neighborhood parking lot and as the residents were none too keen to lose their handy spots, it took years of discussions before the mosaic could be excavated. Once the team was given the go-ahead, they had a brief window to excavate and salvage whatever they found before the property was returned to the residents.

When the new Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center opens, the first two mosaics will be displayed in situ exactly where they were found. This third one will also be on display, but not in its original location.

In this video you can see experts from the IAA salvage the mosaic, rolling it up like a carpet.


Rare dog sarcophagus rescued from museum pound

Friday, August 3rd, 2018

The National Archaeological Museum in Athens has pulled a once-beloved dog from storage and put it on display for the first time since it was discovered 81 years ago. The small sarcophagus adorned with a sculpture of a pet dog dates to the mid-3rd century A.D., the Roman period. It was unearthed in 1937 on the north side of the National Garden in downtown Athens. The ancient Greek road from Athens to Mesogeia, the interior region of the Attic peninsula, ran along what is now Vasilissis Sophias Ave, the north border of the National Garden. As we know, Romans often used the road out of town was for burials, and while no other wee dog sarcophgi have been found in this area, excavations done during construction of the subway station at Syntagma Square just a couple of blocks away did reveal other Roman-era animal graves.

The dog sits on the lid of the sarcophagus, his front legs crossed in a dignified posture, comfortably ensconced on his plush striped bed. His collar is studded with gemstones — circles, squares and diamond-shaped — and a bell hangs from a loop in the front. The collar, bedding and bell unmistakably identify the dog as somebody’s cherished pet rather than a symbolic representation of a deity or a funerary sacrifice.

Funerary monuments to dearly departed dogs are unusual but not unheard of in the Roman archaeological record. Most of them are stele engraved with just an inscription and sometimes a low relief of the animal and an inscription clearly identifying them as grave markers for the pet. The British Museum has a wonderfully expressive example of a marble epitaph plaque inscribed with a poem written from the perspective of the dog who was buried under it.

Gaul gave me my birth and the pearl-oyster from the seas full of treasure my name, an honour fitting to my beauty.
I was trained to run boldly through strange forests
and to hunt out furry wild beasts in the hills
never accustomed to be held by heavy chains
nor endure cruel beatings on my snow-white body.
I used to lie on the soft lap of my master and mistress
and knew to go to bed when tired on my spread mattress
and I did not speak more than allowed as a dog, given a silent mouth
No-one was scared by my barking
but now I have been overcome by death from an ill-fated birth
and earth has covered me beneath this small piece of marble.
Margarita [“Pearl”]

Animal figures have also been found on the funerary reliefs of children, see for example this sweet memorial to “To Helena, foster daughter, the incomparable and worthy soul,” at the Getty.

Complete three-dimensional sculptures of dogs on sarcophagi are a horse of a different color. They are so rare that only one other example has been found on the Attic peninsula. It too is in the collection of the National Archaeological Museum, but it’s still in storage.

The marble pooch was rescued from the pound on Monday and will be on display through October 21st only.

A selection of artifacts from the museums store rooms have been placed on display for the Unseen Museum exhibition, each for a period of two months. The particular artifact complements the temporary exhibition “Hadrian and Athens: Conversing with an Ideal World” that opened on November 27 and will run for a year.

In August and until October, museum archaeologists will conduct tours for visitors that focus on the habits of ancient Athenians, including their strong ties to pet animals. These will be held on three Sundays (August 19, September 16 and October 21) and two Fridays (September 14 and October 19), starting at 13:00. To attend the presentations, visitors must first obtain a ticket on arrival.


Joe the Quilter’s cottage rebuilt at Beamish

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

The cottage in which Joe the Quilter lived, worked and died from murder most foul has been rebuilt at Beamish Museum. The remains of the cottage where the infamous murder took place were unearthed in late 2015 by a team of experts from the museum and volunteers. Although the cottage was demolished in 1872 and a field boundary later cut through the location, significant parts of the dwelling were still in situ, among them the flagstone floor on which the skilled needleworker once walked and the bases of three of the walls.

The remains were raised, numbered and transported to Beamish, an open-air history museum near Stanley, County Durham, northeast England, where they have a section dedicated to life in northern England in 1820s. The component parts of the cottage were first kept in storage as the museum raised funds to recreate it on site combining the original remains with a historically accurate reconstruction of the rest.

This was only possible because Joseph Hedley, aka Joe the Quilter, was internationally known for his beautiful needlework quilts, so when a person or persons unknown brutally slew the impoverished, kindly 75-year-old man in his cottage with 44 cuts to the head, neck and chest, the murder made news all over the country. The government offered a large reward for any information about the crime, even offering immunity to accomplices as long as they had not committed the violence themselves. Nobody ever came forward and the crime was never solved.

A detailed drawing of the cottage was printed in the press and on postcards, and the scene was described in numerous stories and police reports complete with architectural plans. The little cottages of the working poor of Georgian England were not documented in that kind of detail, so Joe’s cottage gives a very rare insight into how the vast majority of people lived in that era. Experts were able to rebuild the cottage with a high degree of accuracy, down to the crack in the front wall and the little built-in stone bench next to the door, thanks to that unique documentation.

The reconstructed cottage is the first new exhibition in the Remaking Beamish project, an ambitious £18 million endeavor that is the biggest development in the museum’s history. The project is in large part funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which has awarded it a £10.9 million grant. The living history museum will be significantly expanded with a full 1950s town, 1950s farm and, in the Georgian section where Joe the Quilter’s cottage now stands, a period coaching inn where visitors to the museum can spend the night as travelers to the area would have done in the early 19th century (with the addition of certain modern conveniences like flush toilets, of course).

Richard Evans, Beamish’s Director, said: “This is a really exciting moment for us all at Beamish. After years of planning we are finally opening the first of many new exhibits that are part of Remaking Beamish, a major £18million development that is currently underway at the museum.

“This beautifully-crafted, heather-thatched cottage gives us a rare chance to understand what everyday life was like in the North East during the early part of the 19th century.

“The quality of this latest addition to Beamish is outstanding – the result of many years of research, painstaking craftsmanship and the involvement of local community groups and schools. It is a real credit to the dedication and talent of our staff and volunteers, who have created this fascinating new experience for our visitors.”

Beamish Museum has created a video that tells the story of the cottage, its reconstruction and the new exhibition centered on cottage industry and the museum’s exceptional collection of 400 quilts, including one exceedingly rare piece by Joseph Hedley himself.


Cornplanter’s tomahawk back at museum 70 years after theft

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

A historic pipe tomahawk has returned to the New York State Museum 70 years after it was stolen by person or persons unknown. The tomahawk belonged to Allegheny Seneca war chief Cornplanter who received as a diplomatic gift from President George Washington in 1792. As war chief, Cornplanter had led the Seneca as allies of the French against the British in the French and Indian War. He took on the war chief mantle again during the Revolutionary War, this time on the British side. His involvement was against his better judgment as he thought the Iroquois nations should remain neutral. He was outvoted, however, and reluctantly did his duty.

Cornplanter, fighting with Loyalist forces, was successful as a war leader. Pro-Independence settlers were killed and their properties were burned, and the Colonists did the same to Iroquois towns. George Washington dispatched Major General John Sullivan to eliminate the Iroquois in New York state and he did just that, first defeating them in pitched battle and then systematically burning every village, farmed field, food store and animal from May to September of 1779. When winter came, the surviving Iroquois had nothing to live on. The refugees headed up to Canada, Cornplanter trying his best to get them to safety, but many of them died from starvation and cold.

With the war lost and the Colonists colonists no more, Cornplanter turned to his diplomatic skills. He helped negotiate and was a signatory of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784 and met personally with President George Washington in 1790 to protest how the Seneca and other Iroquois nations were being treated, treaties notwithstanding.

Pipe tomahawks were significant objects of intercultural exchange in the 18th century and could be used as smoking pipes; smoking was a common ceremonial practice between parties after reaching an agreement. The meetings between Washington and Cornplanter, also known as Gy-ant-waka, in the 1790s eventually led to the Treaty of Canandaigua (1794), which established peace between the sovereign nations of the U.S. and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy.

Cornplanter died in 1836. There is no record of the movements of the ceremonial pipe tomahawk until 1850 when it was donated to the New York State Museum by Seneca statesman, civil engineer, attorney and Union lieutenant colonel Ely Samuel Parker. He acquired it from the widow of a Seneca man named Small Berry. The haft was not original when Parker got the tomahawk, but Cornplanter’s name in the Seneca language, Gy-ant-waka, was engraved on one side of the blade identifying it as the historic piece. The name John Andrus engraved on the other side is unknown but is thought to have been the manufacturer.

Small Berry’s widow described the original haft to Parker, so he replaced the replacement with a replica that came as close as possible to her description: curly maple decorated with bands and geometric spade/arrowhead-like shapes of silver inlay. While he was at it, Parker added a brass plate engraved with his own name to the bore end.

The pipe was an important piece in the museum’s ethnographic collection for decades. It disappeared between 1947 and 1950, it’s not clear exactly when or how. Whoever snatched it, it wound up in the murky penumbra of private collections until June of this year when one last anonymous collector finally had the decency to return it to the State Museum. It is now on display in the museum’s main lobby through December 30th.


Leicester Roman mosaics go on display

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018

The large sections of a Roman mosaic floor discovered at the old Stibbe factory site in Leicester the winter of 2016/2017 is now on public display. This is the first time the public has had a chance to see the cleaned and conserved mosaics.

The University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) was contracted to excavate the site before construction of new apartments in late 2016. They discovered most of a Roman block, including the remains of two townhouses with sections of mosaic floors in several of their rooms. The largest surviving section in one of the homes was about seven by ten feet in area, an estimated quarter of the size of the original. The design and style of the mosaic suggest it dated to the late 3rd century or early 4th.

That was exciting enough, but the largest mosaic pavement in the other home spanked its neighbor soundly with a stretch just shy of 33 feet long. It is the largest and highest quality Roman mosaic floor found in Leicester in 150 years.

Because the apartment building was going to go up Roman insula or no Roman insula, the ULAS team had to raise the mosaics in a meticulous and complex salvage operation. The mortar sealing the mosaics had long since degraded so archaeologists had to use glue and fabric to keep the tesserae together.

The public was invited to see the mosaics in situ on one weekend of May 2017, but since then the priceless pieces have been treated behind closed doors. Their return to public view will be brief (for now). The exhibition opened on Monday at BBC Radio’s studio in Leicester and runs until Friday, July 27th. Admission is free and visitors can see it Monday through Friday from 9AM to 5PM.

Those of us who can’t Uber our way to Leicester in a timely fashion will have to make do with not inconsiderable consolation of Sketchfab.


Buon Compleanno, Artemisia!

Sunday, July 8th, 2018

Baroque master Artemisia Gentileschi would have been 425 years old today. The first woman granted membership to Florence’s Accademia del Disegno, she was famous in her time and counted the crowned heads of Europe among her clientele. Her striking works, often featuring illustrious women from history and the Bible, have become icons of female representation during a time when women were largely excluded from the painterly ranks.

Her private life has been inextricably woven into her oeuvre. She used herself as a model frequently — a number of self-portraits of her as saints, artists and allegories, particularly from her Florentine period, have survived — and her powerful female protagonists have been adopted as symbols of empowerment in the wake of her rape and the subsequent trial of the perpetrator, her art teacher Agostino Tassi. We know from the incredible survival of the transcripts that she stood up for herself at the 1611 trial even under torture. (Rape accusers in the Papal States were subjected to the thumbscrews, among other torture techniques, to ensure their veracity.) For many years she was treated by art historians something of a curiosity, a successful woman artist with a tragic personal history that seemed to be reflected in works like Judith Slaying Holofernes.

The worm has turned for Artemisia, and the understanding of her art on its own terms rather than as mere Caravaggista works or as fodder for five-cent psychological interpretations has led to a massive uptake in interest and demand from museums and collectors. In 2014, a rediscovered Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy broke the sale record for an Artemisia Gentileschi painting when it sold for €865,500 (ca. $1,175,000). In December of 2017, another rediscovered work, Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (ca. 1615-1617), went up for auction in Paris. It broke the new record even more dramatically than the 2014 sale had broken the 1998 record, selling for €2,360,600 ($2,775,000).

Well, we can kiss that record goodbye too, because less than a year later, the dealer who acquired Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria has sold it to London’s National Gallery for £3.6 million ($4,784,000). Paying this eye-watering price was made possible by donations from the American Friends of the National Gallery, the National Gallery Trust, Art Fund, Lord and Lady Sassoon, Lady Getty, Hannah Rothschild CBE, and others who prefer to remain anonymous.

It is the first work by a female artist bought by the National Gallery in almost 30 years, and is only the 21st painting by a woman to join the 2,300 works in the NG’s permanent collection. It’s also just the third easel painting by Artemisia Gentileschi in England.

Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria depicts the saint turned toward the viewer. The figure is identifiable as the saint because of the spiked wheel on which she rests her left hand, the means by which Saint Catherine was supposed to be martyred in the 4th century by order of the Emperor Maxentius only for it to break the moment she touched it. He ordered her beheaded instead and that one did the trick. Unique for her time, Artemisia crops the scene very tightly around the upper body of the saint. This is something you see repeatedly in her portraits of herself as other people.

Letizia Treves, The James and Sarah Sassoon Curator of Later Italian, Spanish, and French 17th-century paintings at the National Gallery say:

“Artemisia is without question one of the most celebrated painters of her time, and we have long wished to acquire a painting by her for the national collection. The fact that this is a self-portrait adds enormously to the painting’s appeal and art historical significance. We are fortunate to have one of the strongest collections of Italian Baroque paintings but, with the exception of Caravaggio, no Italian artist of the 17th century surpasses Artemisia in terms of fame and popular appeal. Following conservation treatment and reframing Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria will find a natural home alongside other works by Italian Baroque painters, including Caravaggio and Artemisia’s father Orazio Gentileschi.”


Rare 1745 portrait donated to Colonial Williamsburg

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

The descendants of Joyce Armistead Booth have donated an extremely rare surviving portrait of their ancestor painted by 18th century artist William Dering to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Only six of Dering’s portraits are known to have survived — including one of Joyce’s son George — and with the latest donation the Colonial Willamsburg foundation is now the proud owner of five of the six.

Only one of the portraits attributed to William Dering is signed. Experts use it as the standard to determine attribution of other works that crop up. The painting of Joyce Armistead Booth has been in the family since it was painted. It is in excellent condition and is still in its original frame. This is an inestimable resource for art historical research into Dering’s oeuvre.

“Executed in saturated, well-preserved reds, blues, and golds, and measuring more than four feet in height, this likeness of Joyce Armistead Booth is visually arresting,” said Ronald L. Hurst, the foundation’s Carlisle H. Humelsine chief curator and vice president for collections, conservation and museums. “The portrait commands the viewer’s attention, and in so doing, provides a window into the goals and aspirations of early Virginia’s planter aristocracy.”

This Dering portrait is significant to ongoing research that Colonial Williamsburg’s experts are undertaking. Laura Barry, Juli Grainger curator of paintings, drawings and sculpture, and Shelley Svoboda, senior conservator of paintings, are at work on a comprehensive study of the artist and his work from both historical and technical perspectives. The portrait of Joyce Armistead Booth, especially due to its pristine condition, informs this research and will help the experts to better understand the nuances in Dering’s other canvases.

William Dering was a Williamsburg dancing master and portrait painter who navigated the upper echelons of Virginia society in the first half of the 18th century. The first record of him in the American colonies is in an advertisement for his dancing school in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1735. In an notice in the same periodical a year later, he was offering a significantly wider array of teaching services, to wit “Reading, Writing, Dancing, Plain Work, Marking, Embroidery, and several other Works: where Likewise young Ladies and Gentlemen may be instructed in the French.”

He and his wife Sarah moved to Virginia and by November of 1737 he was in Williamsburg. An advertisement in the Virginia Gazette of November 25th announced that Dering had “opened his School at the College, where all Gentlemen’s Sons may be taught Dancing, according to the newest French Manner….” He appealed solely to the sons of gentlemen because his classes were held at the College of William of Mary which was then men-only.

What we know of Dering’s social life is the result of his friendship with the socially prominent statesman, planter and founder of Richmond, Virginia, Colonel William Byrd who kept extensive diaries recording his daily life. Dering was a regular visitor to his estate, Westover Plantation. One night on June 6th, 1740, Byrd noted Dering had joined him for dinner of bacon and greens followed by talking, a game of bowls and a walk. They shared many such pleasant evenings. Dering played the French horn during one of them.

Legal records paint a less carefree picture. Dering struggled to pay off multiple mortgages on his house next to the Governor’s Mansion on the Palace Green, a rather high-end address for a dancing teacher, and he was involved in other lawsuits with creditors. It seems he lived consistently beyond his means and his home had to be auctioned after his death in early 1751. It is still standing today and is preserved and administrated by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.





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